Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

No, the Bautista-Odor fight wasn’t “great for baseball”


I’ve seen a lot of sentiment since yesterday afternoon that the Jose BautistaRougned Odor fight was supposed to have great meaning of some kind. More to the point, that it was actually good for baseball. I don’t think it was bad for baseball — it was just a thing that happened, just like fights have happened in baseball for 150 years — but to say it was “great for baseball” seems odd to me.

C.J. Nitkowski of Fox thinks it was great for baseball because it “created buzz” and jacked up the TV ratings. If you saw some of his tweets yesterday, you learned that it was also great because it, somehow, put “nerds” in their place. I don’t fully understand what Nitkowski was getting at with that, but it had something to do with the slide rules and people wanting baseball players not to get injured which, I guess, he considers to be a bad thing. You’ll have to ask him about that.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post thinks it was great for baseball for another reason: there’s too much friendliness in the game, in his view, and it’s better when opponents hate each other. As New York writers always do, Sherman makes something that has nothing to do with New York about New York and uses it to explain how upset he is that Yankees players are friendly with David Ortiz now instead of hating him like the Epic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry allegedly demands. Never mind that the grand old days of the rivalry he describes are, like, 12 years old and no one is left on those teams from that time except for Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. Never mind that the rivalry past 2004 or so, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs, is primarily a creation of fans and the media and that the players don’t care at all anymore and likely didn’t care as much as people like to think they did.

These takes have one thing in common: for them to make coherent sense, players have to play roles to satisfy an audience rather than be actual human beings with feelings. Bautista and Odor are buzz-creators or rivalry-stokers here as opposed to humans who got caught up in an emotional thing and let their aggression take over for a few minutes due to some provocations that made sense to them in the heat of the moment. No, they were serving the audience in some way and, not only that, they had to! For the good of the game!

This is all artificial nonsense. Baseball players are people. Their job is to serve the audience when they play baseball. While there were aspects of what happened yesterday that were in and of themselves entertaining (mostly because no one got hurt) it’s not their job to serve fans and the press with that stuff and the fact that they did didn’t Mean Anything Big And Important. It was just a thing that happened. Players likewise can be and should be friends with one another if they choose to be without it harshing the buzz of some columnist who misses what he got to write about over a decade ago. Not saying Odor and Bautista ever will be, but if they do a commercial goofing on their fight this fall, we will not have lost anything by their antipathy being diminished.

I don’t know. I read stuff like what Sherman and Nitkowski wrote and I wonder whether the people who think like that view players as people with agency or mere characters in a drama. I wonder, if Bautista and Odor issue statements apologizing to one another today or make that commercial one day, if guys like Sherman and Nitkowski will be sad. More than anything else when I see stuff like this I think about all of the weird and unfair gladiatorial expectations we place on athletes and remember exactly where it comes from.

Houston Chronicle editor apologizes for column about Carlos Gomez


A couple of weeks ago Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle wrote a hit piece on Carlos Gomez, blaming him for the bulk of the Astros’ problems. That was bad (i.e. inaccurate) enough, but the column was made worse by Smith’s inclusion of a quote of broken English from Gomez that seemed to serve no other purpose but to cast Gomez in a bad light. In doing so, Smith eschewed any number of techniques journalists use in such situations to deliver a somewhat more empathetic story, even if they’re being critical. Paraphrasing, brackets, etc.

Yesterday the editor of the Chronicle offered an apology about the column and talked about trying to do better in this regard. It was delivered to Richard Prince at the Journal-Isms blog:

“With regards to quoting Carlos Gomez: We sincerely apologize for any offense that was taken. Our writers are encouraged to adhere to AP style rules, which are quoted below. I reviewed the rules myself after this arose and found the guidelines on quotes to be less than adequate for a community like ours, full of immigrants from all over the world, and for whom English is often a second language. I’ve asked some top editors to review this policy, research best practices, and recommend guidance for all of our writers in the future. We always want to be respectful of those we are interviewing.”

As Prince notes, major style guides hold that quotes should not be altered, but common practice involves using paraphrasing to convey the meaning of quotes which don’t come out cleanly as a means of not portraying the subject in a less-than-flattering light. Obviously a lot of judgment is used in such cases, but as he and his sources note, it also seems like the style guides are in need of an update or a review about such matters.

Brad Ausmus is probably in some trouble


The Tigers have been stinkin’ up the joint. They’ve lost 11 of 13 and, but for a questionable call or two in yesterday’s game vs. the Orioles, it could’ve been 12. But one loss matters far less than 21, which is the total number of their losses, and 7.5, which is how far back they are in the AL Central. Another number that matters is $200 million, which is the team’s payroll. May as well throw in the number 86, which is how many years old owner Mike Ilitch is, and he’s not getting any younger.

Manager Brad Ausmus was on the hot seat last year following the team’s last place finish and right after the season ended it seemed like even odds that he’d be fired and the Tigers would sell off some pieces. But rather than tear down and rebuild, new GM Al Avila went out and added pieces in Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann and kept Ausmus on board. Whether those were the right pieces to add is something people can disagree about, but the clear signal coming from the front office heading into 2016 was “the Tigers are expected to compete this year.” Except they’re not competing.

All of which tends to lead to managers getting fired, and Ausmus is clearly on the hot seat. Today both the Free Press and the News have columns speculating on Ausmus’ job security. Losing in bunches and losing in dispiriting fashion — and bullpens blowing big leads is dispiriting — doesn’t help matters. Whatever one thinks of the composition of the 2016 Tigers and no matter how little input Ausmus had into that composition, the manager in this situation often takes the fall.

I feel like it’s only a matter of time before Ausmus falls. The real question is going to be whether he outlasts Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta. On the one hand, sure, the Braves are way, way worse. On the other hand, no one in Atlanta’s front office expects their team to win anything. The expectations in Detroit are far, far different.

If I were Brad Ausmus, I’d do my grocery shopping by the day.